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Cokie Roberts On The Impact Of Robert Kennedy's Death


An announcement came in the early hours of June 6, 1968, 50 years ago today.


FRANK MANKIEWICZ: Senator Robert Francis Kennedy died at 1:44 a.m. today, June 6, 1968.

INSKEEP: Robert F. Kennedy's press secretary, Frank Mankiewicz, had been keeping a vigil with rest of the nation for 24 hours or so since the presidential candidate had been shot. There are still many questions about that shooting, and Noel King put some of your questions to commentator Cokie Roberts in today's Ask Cokie segment.



KING: Cokie, before we go to our listeners' questions, I want to ask you what you remember about that time.

ROBERTS: Well, it was terrible. It was a terrible shock. We'd had the Martin Luther King assassination right before and Kennedy a few years before. We happened to be in Turkey, my husband and I, for the last vacation before the birth of our first child, and we saw this huge headline, Kennedy something, but we didn't know what that meant. We thought it must have meant he lost the California primary, but then this Customs guy said to us, Kennedy, bang bang. So it was horrible. You thought, what kind of world are we bringing this baby into? It was very traumatic.

KING: Cokie, our first listener gets to the question of how politics might have been different if Kennedy had won the 1968 election.


NANCY BOYCE: This is Nancy Boyce (ph) in Austin, Texas. Would Kennedy have achieved the same accomplishments that Johnson achieved in the area of civil rights and the relief of poverty?

ROBERTS: Well, it's always impossible to know what might have been, but certainly Kennedy would have tried. His views had evolved tremendously from his tough guy stance working for Joe McCarthy's committee into a truly passionate champion of minorities and the poor. He would have had a tougher time with Congress than LBJ did, but if he had been the nominee and the Democratic convention hadn't been such a chaotic and violent event, who knows how history would have changed. The Vietnam War could have been very different. You know, one man can make a difference.

KING: Yeah, one man can make a difference, and there is this question that I know a lot of people to this day still have about R.F.K.'s death. And our next questioner, Maureen Noonan (ph), asked it pretty directly. She asks, do you think R.F.K.'s real killer is in jail?

ROBERTS: Well, R.F.K. Jr. doesn't. He's convinced the real killer is still out there, and he wants an investigation opened into the case. Look; Noel, there are always conspiracy theories in these situations, and it's impossible to know whether any of them are true even after an investigation. That was certainly the case with the Warren Commission and John F. Kennedy. My father served on that commission, and then he himself disappeared in an airplane over Alaska a few years later, and there were all sorts of conspiracy theories about that. So I think it's just natural for members of the Kennedy family to want to explore more.

KING: Our last question, Cokie, is about how to prevent these kind of attacks.


OLIVIA FIGUERAS: My name is Olivia Figueras (ph), and I am from Ontario, Calif. My question to Cokie is how did the R.F.K. assassination affect how presidents, or rather senators in this case, are protected?

ROBERTS: Well, the Secret Service extended protection to major presidential and vice presidential candidates after the Robert Kennedy assassination. But the whole history of presidential protection's a fascinating one. We should talk about it another time, Noel.

KING: I have no doubt that we will. Thank you so much, Cokie.

ROBERTS: Good to talk to you.

KING: That's commentator Cokie Roberts. And you can ask Cokie your questions about how politics and government work by emailing us at askcokie@npr.org or by tweeting us with the hashtag #AskCokie.

(SOUNDBITE OF TESK'S "SNAPBACK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.